Canada: Narrow focus on language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Dec 20 16:00:23 UTC 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Narrow focus on language

The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A university education is about broadening one's horizons and exploring
new ideas no matter in which language they are communicated. And yet, for
the third time in recent memory, the Universite du Quebec en Outaouais is
considering turning its back on openness. The school is reviewing whether
it should continue to hold English-language classes in its MBA and
graduate project management programs. There does not seem to be anything
inherently wrong with those courses as taught at UQO. In fact, they
attract students not just from the Ottawa-Gatineau area but also from
foreign countries. Presumably many of the foreign students are attracted
at least in part because the courses are offered in English, which after
all is the international language of business.

The money gained from the foreign students, who pay much higher tuitions,
should be enough to entice the school to drop the review. Moreover,
eliminating English-language courses will convey a negative and narrow
image of the school, which is not exactly conducive to faculty and student
recruitment. Unfortunately, this is but the latest ill-considered decision
about language policy to emerge from la belle province. The names of towns
are changed from English to French even though the towns have historic
English roots. Francophone parents, aware that fluency in English is key
to professional success around the world, are denied access to English
instruction for their children. And businesses wage absurd struggles with
those infamous rules governing the signs outside their shops. The rector
of UQO, Jean Vallaincourt, says the "consultation" will allow the
university to better serve its community, adding that the school was
created as a francophone university where "French is the language of

However, the Outaouais has one of the largest concentration of English
speakers in the province. About 50,000 anglophones live in the region. If
they want university instruction in Quebec in English they will have to
head down the unfinished Highway 50 to Montreal, or pay triple the tuition
in Ontario. For Brian Gibb, director of the regional Association of West
Quebecers, the situation facing young English-speaking residents of the
region headed for university is discriminatory, especially for those of
limited means.  Indeed, other francophone schools in the province offer
instruction in English. In the Outaouais, some francophones have always
been susceptible to the anxiety that the French fact is more fragile in
their community than others, and as a result they have become defensive in
their relationship with anglophones.

Unlike Montreal where linguistic peace rules, in the Outaouais there are
still skirmishes. There are few winners in these fights. The school may
gain linguistic purity but it will lose in reputation and, perhaps,
revenue as well.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2006


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